Old-timers in the carpet cleaning industry remember when hot water extraction (HWE) of office buildings, retail stores and other commercial accounts was profitable, effective and the preferred cleaning method.
Then national maintenance management companies appeared on the scene.
Their business model was to bid low on national accounts, take a healthy cut right off the top and find a cleaner desperate enough to clean commercial carpet at little or no profit. Effective cleaning was no longer a priority. Low price was king.
High production rates and low equipment costs of encapsulation cleaning allowed local owner-operated companies to successfully compete on price, provide a clean appearance and still be profitable. Encapsulation cleaning, in several variations, became an increasingly popular method for commercial carpet cleaning.
How can hot water extraction cleaners provide a high level of service and profitably compete in this environment? That is the question I put to several leading cleaners around the country. Here are some of the key components for success that I was able to compile from my research.
Don’t despair. Although it seems they are everywhere, national management companies actually control only a fraction of the carpet that needs to be cleaned.
Develop a marketing plan. This can be based on geography by targeting an area where many prospects are clustered, or it can be based on targeting a specific type of business. Management of company “A” likely knows and interacts with management from companies “B,” “C” and “D.” If you impress company “A” with your service, the others will hear about your services.
Whatever your marketing plan might be, put it in writing and commit to following through. Visit quarterly each company that you target.
Newspapers like to cover positive news about local businesses. Provide well-written press releases to editors of the business sections. Other businessmen are likely to read that portion of the paper first.
In addition to having a website targeting residential clients, create a website that targets commercial prospects.
Help your prospect to select a service plan that meets their budget and their needs.
Give them options. Options could include how often various areas are cleaned, perhaps with a mix of HWE and encapsulation. You might offer training for the in-house staff to care for spot, spill and stain removal chores between professional cleanings. This has the added benefit of making the cleaning job easier if many of the spills were removed when they were fresh — long before your team arrives.
Include information about upsells. This is a great way to increase your profit from an account.
One easy add-on is office chairs. Include information in the bid that office chairs can be cleaned for $5 each when you are on-site for carpet cleaning. When carpet cleaning time approaches, remind them to leave out any chairs they want cleaned.
Cubicle dividers and protector for high traffic areas are other items that can be offered at a good profit margin, even when bidding for the carpet portion of the job is competitive.
If you also provide water damage restoration services, you may want to help your client develop a plan on what to do in case of a water emergency.
This information can be very valuable for a business to have, quickly, when the need arises. The plan should include how to contact your company at any time (day or night), any day and any holiday.
There can be a fee for this added service, as well as a retainer, to assure they have high priority for service. This may become extremely important in the event the business is the victim of a catastrophe. When that happens, demand makes it difficult to receive prompt service from restoration companies. You can be the solution.
Being efficient is obviously a significant aspect of being profitable. Here are some suggestions that have proved helpful for commercial carpet cleaners.
- Inspect the layout of the building. Decide in advance where to park for the most efficient hose runs, where vehicles won’t need to be moved (or moved less often). Know the location of water hook-ups, where water can be dumped by your auto pump-out systems and the location of electrical outlets for vacuum cleaners. Have this information on the work order. Don’t waste time once the cleaning team is on location.
- Use corner guards around cubicles. Solution hoses can be snagged easily.
- Use of an electric-powered rotary wand will be less fatiguing and allow cleaners to work efficiently throughout longer jobs.
- Drag wands with wide heads are additional options that allow thorough cleaning with reduced operator fatigue than experienced with a typical scrub wand.
- When you encounter a spill or other stain that could possibly wick back, mark the location with a piece of masking tape. Come back at the end of the job to apply an anti-wicking encapsulation product.
- Teamwork is important. Most commercial cleaning jobs involve more than one team member. The procedure should be clear so that each person will know which task to move to next as he completes each portion of the job.
- Plan breaks so that the wand is always moving. A team member who is vacuuming or applying prespray should work for enough ahead so that he can stop for a break when needed. Then he will begin extracting while the other team member benefits from a break.
- A janitorial cart can be an effective way to move cleaning products, hoses, buckets, heaters, tabs and even a vacuum cleaner from one location to another and from one floor to another quickly and conveniently.
The highest percentage of soil encountered will always be dry soils. Excessive amounts of dry soil will definitely slow the cleaning process.
Take the time to educate your new client on the value of dry soil management. This is especially important on commercial glue-down carpet.
Huge amounts of dry soil can hide in the dense pile. Not only will this soil slow the cleaning process, but it contributes to wicking, looks bad between cleaning and shortens the life of the carpet due to increased abrasion and wear.
Training your client on the use of sufficient entryway mats and the importance of rotating in clean entry mats on a regular schedule will benefit the customer and significantly reduce the amount of time you need to spend on vacuuming and cleaning. Mats should be placed at every entrance and should be long enough so that those entering the building must walk several steps across the mats, thereby removing as much tracked-in soil as possible.
Include instructions on proper vacuuming and how to be sure the vacuums used in the building are operating effectively.
Use of a quality counter-rotating brush machine as part of your dry soil removal process opens up the pile, allows more soil to be removed and speeds up your cleaning process. It also lifts the pile, and improves carpet appearance.
In closing, I would like to thank several people active in our industry who are very successful at commercial carpet cleaning. They all shared their “tricks of the trade.” These include: Shane Dubell of Commercial Carpet Cleaning, Buffalo NY; Mike Jatoft of Dry-Concepts, Davies FL; and Rick Gelinas of Excellent Supply, St Petersburg FL.
Scott Warrington has more than 40 years of experience in the carpet cleaning industry and related fields. He serves as the technical support specialist for Bridgepoint Systems and Interlink Supply. He can be contacted at ScottW@Bridgepoint.com.